UN rights chief deplores growing cases of abuses in Sri Lanka


The United Nations Human Rights Council should act on the recommendations and adopt a new resolution to enhance scrutiny of Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation after a damning report by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

In her report released on January 27, 2021, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she was “alarmed” by the human rights situation in the island country and set out steps that the Human Rights Council should take to confront the growing risk of future violations.

The report warns that the failure of Sri Lanka to address past violations has significantly heightened the risk of human rights violations being repeated.  It also highlights worrying trends over the past year, such as deepening impunity, increasing militarization of governmental functions, ethno-nationalist rhetoric, and intimidation of civil society.

Since the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has withdrawn its support for the 2015 consensus resolution seeking justice and reconciliation, and shown general disregard for upholding basic human rights, the council should act to protect those most at risk and advance accountability for grave international crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

“The UN high commissioner’s report highlights Sri Lanka’s egregious record of complete impunity for appalling crimes, and very disturbing developments under the Rajapaksa administration,” said John Fisher, Human Rights Watch Geneva director.

“The Human Rights Council has given Sri Lanka every opportunity to address these issues over many years, and now greater international involvement is needed to help protect vulnerable groups and hold those responsible for grave international crimes to account.”

During the final months of the civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009, both sides committed atrocities that killed tens of thousands of civilians.

UN investigators found that these atrocities may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Grave abuses included summary executions, torture, rape, and the murder and enforced disappearance of journalists and activists.

Many senior figures implicated in those abuses returned to government following the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019.

The UN high commissioner found that “Sri Lanka remains in a state of denial about the past, with truth-seeking efforts aborted and the highest State officials refusing to make any acknowledgement of past crimes.”

The high commissioner described “a deepening and accelerating militarization of civilian government functions.” Since 2020, she wrote, “The President has appointed at least 28 serving or former military and intelligence personnel to key administrative posts”.

In the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, the previous Sri Lankan government agreed to adopt measures to ensure truth telling, reparations, security sector reform, and justice through a hybrid mechanism including international investigators, prosecutors, and judges.

In February 2020, three months after Rajapaksa won the presidential election, his government renounced those commitments.

“This strong and clear report by the high commissioner leaves no room for doubt about the situation in Sri Lanka, or what is at stake when the Human Rights Council considers a new resolution in a few weeks’ time,” Fisher said.

“Member states should draft and adopt a strong resolution that protects vulnerable people in Sri Lanka, advances justice for international crimes, and shows that the council is able to respond to challenges posed by the Sri Lankan government.” (Source: HRW)